The role of compression for recovery from endurance activity
What happens to the muscle following exercise:
Strenuous or unaccustomed exercise damages muscle cell structures and impairs muscle function (1). Significantly more damage occurs during eccentric muscle contractions. This is because fewer motor units are recruited and a smaller cross section of muscle is activated to handle the same load as in a concentric contraction. Damage to muscle fibers results in an inflammatory response causing a transfer of fluid to the damaged tissue (1). Peak swelling may not occur until 5-10 days post exercise. As muscle breakdown products are slowly removed, water is attracted leading to localised edema. This all results in a loss of force production by the muscle and an increase in stiffness of the damages muscle (1). This inflammatory response creates an increase in tissue osmotic pressure, resulting in sensations of pain and soreness (2). These symptoms can last for a number of days and may affect the capacity to train. This impacts an athletes training program and competition performance. As a result, methods to reduce these negative symptoms are widely sought (2)
Applying compression generates an external pressure gradient that reduces osmotic pressure and space available for swelling to occur so that athletes experience a reduction in the severity of muscle soreness and reduced decrements in strength and power (2). This reduced muscle soreness is beneficial for athletes and may improve their ability to be performing at their optimal much sooner.
When to wear compression garments:
Compression garments are worn during recovery (2) to promote a more rapid recovery of muscle function to improve performance.
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- Clarkson, P. M., & Sayers, S. P. (1999). Etiology of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 24(3), 234–248.doi:10.1139/h99-020
- Hill, J., Howatson, G., van Someren, K., Leeder, J., & Pedlar, C. (2013). Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(18), 1340–1346.doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092456